The Benefits of Pilates in pregnancy and beyond

The female body is amazing (although I am a bit biased!) As you grow a life for nine months, the body adapts to accommodate your baby and prepare you for labour. But these structural and postural changes can make pregnant women more vulnerable to lower back pain, pelvic problems and tight upper backs.

Throughout pregnancy, the increasing weight of the baby pulls the centre of gravity forward. The pelvis is brought in to an anterior tilt, causing an exaggerated curve in the lumbar spine (lower back). In an attempt to balance the body, the upper or thoracic spine curves forward more, meaning you need to lift the head up further to keep your focus on the horizon. This leads to tightness in the neck extensors and across the front of the shoulders, and puts pressure through the lower back. By the third trimester, the uterus has risen in to the upper abdominal cavity which also reduces thoracic mobility.

These exaggerated spinal curves, combined with over stretched abdominals and a weaker pelvic floor create less support for the pelvis, and the muscles of the back have to work harder to keep you upright.

The hormone Relaxin causes ligaments to become more elastic and reduce in strength through pregnancy. This has a particular impact around the pelvis as there is a number of Relaxin receptor sites located there and the body needs to increase the pelvic outlet for birth. Although the muscles do relax to a degree, they also need to work harder in order to stabilise the pelvis and take on more of the work normally done by the ligaments. This can cause muscle stiffness, instable joints and common pregnancy problems such as Pelvic girdle pain and sciatica.  

Pilates can help to counteract the impact of these changes and set you up for a speedier post-partum recovery. The many benefits include:

  • Helping you to develop an appropriate level of abdominal connection and core stability to support the spine and maintain posture.
  • Keeping the shoulders and back mobile, helping to reduce muscle stiffness and relax the shoulders.
  • Preparing your body for later carrying your baby and the demands of motherhood.
  • Learning to move with the breath, to aid relaxation and reduce anxiety.
  • Improve muscular support for pelvis and the effect of ligamentous laxity on your joints.
  • Increase understanding of the Pelvic Floor and its role in pregnancy and labour.
  • Improve body awareness and tune you in with your body and growing baby.
  • Give you time out for yourself and socialise with other mums-to-be.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some Pilates exercises to help you through your pregnancy and beyond.

My new pre and postnatal classes at Hucks Café, Walthamstow will be starting from the 6th July. These small, intimate classes are designed to help guide you through your pregnancy and in to the postnatal period. Please see www.lilydpilates.com/classes/ or email me lilydpilates@gmail.com for more info.

Creating Longer Lasting Goals

Congratulations - You’ve made it through January. But how are you getting on with your New Year’s Resolutions? Perhaps you’re in full swing and feeling virtuous. Or perhaps you joined the gym only to make it once and are left consumed with guilt.

If you’re struggling, you’re not alone. Only about one in ten of us are successful with our resolutions, and many of us only manage to make changes for a month before going back to our old ways.

But don’t worry, not all is lost. If you want to set yourself longer lasting health and fitness goals that go beyond January, here are some tips to get your started:

1.    Be specific

How many of us have uttered the words ‘I want to get fitter’ or ‘I want to be healthier’? Vague or generalised goals are unhelpful as they lack direction and it will be hard for you to see your progress. Ask yourself why you want to be fitter? Do you want to walk to the station without getting out of breath, or sit at work without getting backache? Do you want to run a marathon or swim twice a week? Whatever your goal, make it measurable so you can define how you’re going to get there and where you want to end up. Once you’ve reached your target, you can just keep moving the goalposts!

2.       Do something you enjoy

If the thought of going to the gym feels you with dread, you’re not going to be motivated to go. According to the Fitness Industry Association, most people who join the gym in January cancel their membership within 24 weeks. Find something you enjoy, and you’ll be more motivated to go. Love dancing? Try a social dance class or 80s workout, such as the ones at Frame. Or are you motivated by working with others and benefiting your community? GoodGym offer lots of ways to get fit while doing charitable causes, leaving you feeling both physically and mentally virtuous!

3.       Create a habit

Finding time to exercise can be a challenge, but being consistent can help to create a longer lasting habit. Try to find activities that you can easily access, such as a class on the way to work and treat your exercise time as you would any other appointment. Make small changes within your day, such as walking up escalators (yes, even the ones at Holborn) or making sure you get up and move away from your desk at least once an hour.

4.       Go gradual

Your body needs time to adapt to a new training regime. If you’ve not run or exercised for a while, then start slow and progress gradually. Working out for too long or too intensely too soon can increase your changes of injury or burn out. A conditioning programme, such as Pilates, can help to maintain your overall strength and flexibility.

5.       Eat well, not less

Starvation diets do not work. Your body is continually working to preserve energy, so if you suddenly start eating less it will go in to starvation mode. Your metabolism slows down, so less fat is burnt off and the body will actually store more fat as it won’t know when the next meal is coming. A lot of diet or ‘fat free’ foods are full of sugar to make them taste better. Try to avoid processed food and eat a wide variety of home cooked food. The more colourful the better! Denying yourself also doesn’t work, so giving yourself the occasional treat won’t do any harm.

Good luck!

 

Learning to listen

From the age of 18, when I started my professional dance training, to about the age of 31 I did not stop exercising. Dancing, teaching, gym workouts, Capoeira, Yoga, running-if I had one day off I felt guilty.

All this stopped when after a long weekend of Capoeira I suddenly could not put weight on to my left leg. My hip was burning and pain radiated up in to my sciatic nerve. Despite my body trying to tell me something was up, I tried to carry on. Being a dancer, I was used to trying to work through an injury but was also probably avoiding the issue. It was not until I could not physically get out of bed one morning that I knew I had to do something. A physio diagnosed a Labral Tear (tear in the cartilage around the joint) and I was advised to have keyhole surgery.  

During surgery, it was discovered the cartilage in my hip had worn away and the joint had become arthritic. I felt so angry at myself for not looking after my body better. I spent about 6 months on crutches, after which my body totally changed. Muscle had wasted, and my shoulders hutched forward from being bent over on crutches and lack of movement. My body felt old. Despite diligently doing my physio exercises each day, I was still in pain and started to worry I would never regain my pre-surgery strength and alignment.

At the time, I worked at Rambert. One of the company dancers had also had surgery and advised I start Pilates. I had done Pilates before but never on a regular basis. It was that thing you do if you got injured and then stopped when you felt better. I started seeing Pilates teacher, Pieter Symonds every week and had ongoing treatment with Osteopath, Andrew Creevy*. Over the months, my body started to change. I regained strength around my hip, my spine lengthened and my shoulders opened. I found myself feeling physically better than I ever had, even during my dance training. This experience inspired me to teach Pilates because I wanted everyone to feel as good as I did. Not only physically, but mentally too.

There were many times during my dance career that I got injured, and looking back now I realise it was because I never gave myself a break. I was trying so hard to be fitter, leaner, better at what I was doing. I also had misalignment problems, that until I started Pilates, I was not aware I had.  Although I still love the feeling of having moved and worked my body, I now do it with a greater sense of posture and alignment, and know when to allow my body to rest. I have far less injuries and feel stronger than ever. Pilates connects the mind and body- making you better at listening to your body and what it needs.

So listen to your body next time it’s telling you to rest- put your feet up and eat cake instead! (And don’t feel guilty) 

*Andrew and Pieter are both based at the Rebalance Clinic